March 23, 2001

McNamara: Bay of Pigs invasion 'dumb'

                  HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) -- The ill-fated
                  U.S-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in
                  1961 was a "dumb" plan that should never
                  have gone ahead, former U.S. Defense
                  Secretary Robert McNamara told an academic
                  conference in Havana.

                  Although McNamara could not attend the
                  three-day session in Cuba on the 40th
                  anniversary of one of the Cold War's most
                  emblematic battles, he sent a message that was
                  read out at a closed-door session, a participant
                  said late Thursday.

                  "He basically said that this was a really dumb
                  operation. The Bay of Pigs invasion was
                  wrong and never should have occurred,"
                  Thomas Blanton, head of the National Security
                  Archive, which co-sponsored the
                  conference, told reporters.

                  President Fidel Castro's troops decimated within 72
                  hours the 1,500-man Cuban exile landing force, which
                  had been expecting more direct military backup from
                  then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy's administration.

                  McNamara's note also criticized later CIA plots to
                  assassinate Castro, Blanton said.

                  It had been hoped that McNamara, an aide to
                  Kennedy during the invasion and Defense
                  Secretary at the time of the 1962 Cuban Missile
                  Crisis, would attend the conference.

                  But there was no shortage of other key characters
                  from the era, ranging from Castro himself on the
                  Cuban side, to members of the doomed 2506
                  Brigade of exile invaders, ex-CIA agents, and
                  aides and relatives of Kennedy on the U.S. side.

                  "We are having a rich, respectful, scholarly
                  dialogue," Blanton added after the first day of the
                  conference during which Castro, and other senior
                  communist leaders and ex- soldiers, sat opposite
                  their former foes.

                  A key architect of the Vietnam War, McNamara
                  has also said in the past that conflict was "terribly wrong".

                     Copyright 2001 Reuters.